Infertility
Symptoms, Causes, Treatments, Questions & Related Topics


Possible Symptoms for Infertility

The main symptom of infertility is the inability to become pregnant after one year of unprotected sex.[1] Many people with infertility experience no other symptoms. They may not realize that they have a fertility problem until they start trying to conceive.

However, in some cases, you may experience other symptoms that suggest fertility problems. Women with fertility issues may have irregular, painful, or absent menstrual periods. Men with fertility issues sometimes experience erectile dysfunction or changes in their libido.[2]

Top 6 Infertility Causes

1. Hormonal imbalances

Hormonal imbalances are a common cause of infertility in both men and women.

In women, hormones affect your menstrual cycle and tell your body when to ovulate. Hormones also help your body build up a uterine lining each month. This lining allows for successful implantation of a fertilized egg. Hormone imbalances can interfere with these processes and prevent conception.[2]

In men, hormones can affect your sperm production and function. Hormone imbalances may prevent your body from producing healthy, mobile sperm.[1]

2. Structural problems

Healthy hormone production isn't always enough to ensure fertility. Some people may have scarring, tumors, or other structural problems that can interfere with conception. These issues are often caused by an injury or a chronic health condition.[1]

In women, these problems can block the fallopian tubes to prevent conception from occurring. They can also prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterine wall.[2] In men, structural issues can block the flow of sperm from the testes through the urethra.[2]

3. STDs

Many sexually transmitted diseases, or STDs, can cause infertility in both men and women. Untreated STDs may cause scarring in your reproductive organs, which can prevent conception. In women, damage caused by STDs can also be responsible for some miscarriages.[2]

4. Cancer or cancer treatment

Some people with cancer may become infertile. Infertility can result from the disease itself or from cancer treatments. If you develop cancer in your reproductive organs, you may also need to have these organs surgically removed. This type of surgery helps prevent cancer from spreading, but it can also prevent you from having children in the future.[1][2]

Some cancer treatments, like chemotherapy, may also cause infertility in certain patients.[2] If you're planning to undergo cancer treatment, ask your doctor how the treatment will affect your fertility.

5. Environmental factors

Certain substances, such as pesticides or radiation, can cause infertility in both men and women. Cigarettes, illegal drugs, and alcohol can also impact your fertility.[2] If you're trying to conceive, it's best to avoid these substances.

6. Early menopause

In the years leading up to menopause, most women experience a gradual loss of fertility. Their periods may be irregular during this time. A woman is considered post-menopausal when she hasn't had a period in over a year.[3] After menopause, women are no longer able to become pregnant naturally.

Most women in the United States reach menopause around age 50,[3] but some experience menopause during their 30s or early 40s.[2] If you experience early menopause, you may struggle with infertility as a result.

5 Ways to Prevent Infertility

1. Stop smoking

Smoking is harmful to your health and can affect your fertility.[2] If you're trying to conceive, it's essential to quit smoking first. Talk to your doctor to learn more about the risks of smoking and get help with quitting.

2. Limit alcohol

Heavy drinking can harm your fertility. If you're a woman, it's best to avoid alcohol entirely while trying to conceive.[2] Drinking during pregnancy can do permanent damage to your baby's health.

3. Practice safer sex

STDs are a common cause of infertility.[1][2] Many STDs cause no symptoms, so you may not realize you have one until it's too late. Practicing safe sex is an essential part of staying healthy and protecting your fertility.

4. Get STD tests

If you're sexually active with multiple partners, your doctor may recommend getting an STD test once or twice a year. Your doctor may also suggest STD tests if you and your partner are trying to conceive. Early diagnosis is key. If your tests reveal that you have an STD, prompt treatment can help protect your fertility.

5. Get regular Pap smears and pelvic exams

Most women should receive a Pap smear and pelvic exam every 1 to 3 years.[4] Depending on your medical history, you may need to be examined more often. Ask your gynecologist when to schedule your next visit.

Possible Infertility Treatment Options

1. Medications

If your infertility is caused by hormonal imbalances, prescription medications may help. Different drugs can increase your sperm count or encourage ovulation.[5] These medications can often help produce a successful pregnancy.

2. Surgery

If you have a structural problem in your reproductive organs, you may need surgery.[5] Treatment options can vary depending on which condition is responsible for your symptoms. In men, surgery can often help reverse a sperm blockage. In women, surgery can unblock fallopian tubes or remove fibroids. These procedures may improve your chances of conception.

3. Fertility treatments

If you're struggling to conceive, your doctor may suggest assisted reproductive technology (ART). Treatments like in-vitro fertilization (IVF) collect sperm and eggs. Next, IVF technicians fertilize the eggs in a lab. The resulting embryo can then be implanted into your uterus or a gestational carrier.[5]

IVF treatments can be expensive and are often not covered by insurance, but they can be an excellent option for couples struggling with long-term infertility.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Infertility Treatment

  • How long have you been trying to conceive?
  • Have you or your partner ever been diagnosed with an STD?
  • Do you drink or smoke? Does your partner drink or smoke?
  • If you're a woman, are your periods regular?
  • If you're a man, do you have trouble with erectile dysfunction?
  • If you're a woman, at what age did your mother reach menopause?
  • Does anyone in your family have fertility issues?

Infertility May Also Be Known as:

  • Sterility

References:

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Infertility FAQs. https://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/infertility/index.htm
  2. Mayo Clinic. Infertility: Symptoms & causes. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/infertility/symptoms-causes/syc-20354317
  3. Mayo Clinic. Menopause: Symptoms & causes. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/menopause/symptoms-causes/syc-20353397
  4. Office on Women's Health. Pap and HPV tests. https://www.womenshealth.gov/a-z-topics/pap-hpv-tests
  5. Mayo Clinic. Infertility: Diagnosis & treatment. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/infertility/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20354322

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